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Autism

Our work with children with Autism is multi-faceted. An initial assessment of a child's communication will help us establish an initial treatment plan. It will highlight your child’s strengths and determine the areas that they need our help to develop. Areas of focus include receptive and expressive language, speech production, and social communication.

 

We work with children and their families individually, as well as in small social groups, when appropriate.

A large portion of our practice is based on collaboration with the Healing Haven, a children’s clinic specializing in Applied Behavioral Analysis for children with Autism.  

Please visit the Healing Haven website by clicking here for more information on how our teams work together. 

 

Therapy for Early Communicators

Children with Autism may develop early communication skills differently than other children. Everyone knows that each child is unique, has different likes and dislikes, and has her/his own sensory preferences. As you read, please understand that this summary is meant to be general and not a picture of every child.

 

We are highly trained to understand the developmental levels of children with Autism and identify their stage of communication. Often, our children are developing within one stage of communication while emerging into others. It is very important that we understand your child specifically. We will reinforce the areas that they thrive in and support the areas that need more development. 

 

One form of communication for children with Autism is requesting. We need to set up their environments and the people around them to establish joint attention and eye contact, maximize motivation, socialization, turn-taking, and imitation. These skills help children get their desires and needs to be met, while significantly decreasing negative behaviors. When done right, we can establish a happier and calmer state for learning the other areas of communication.

Our overall goal at this stage is to teach children through People Games. People Games have minimal battery-run toys and no screens. We bring the fun by adding sensory input and laughter! 

 

In addition to our many years of experience and expertise treating children with Autism, many of our strategies come from More Than Words® — The Hanen Program® for Parents of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

 

The More Than Words Program was designed specifically for parents of children on the Autism spectrum.  By addressing the unique needs of these children, the program provides parents with the tools, strategies, and support they need to help their children reach their full communication potential. Click here for additional information.

 

Likewise, we employ strategies and framework from the PLAY Project, also a highly sought after play-based approach to working with children with Autism. Please visit by clicking here.


Early Social Communication 

 

A person that is considered to be an efficient social communicator has a well-developed Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind refers to the higher-level language skills that a person needs to take another person's perspective, understand their thoughts and feelings, and know why people behave the way that they do based on those feelings and thoughts. Theory of Mind typically begins to develop during the toddler years and children naturally build on those skills as they age and mature. For some children, this development does not occur naturally and they highly benefit from therapy in this area. 

 

A comprehensive assessment of their Theory of Mind skills will guide how and what we teach your child. Therapy can help children better understand thoughts, feelings, and others’ perspectives in order to navigate relationships and handle a variety of social situations.  

 

Early developing Theory of Mind and social communication begins with children recognizing basic emotions, such as happy and sad, which later develops into the understanding of more complex emotions, such as boredom, frustration, and pride.  Children also begin to understand that actions and feelings are connected, meaning that certain outcomes and situations may lead to different emotions.  Children also need to understand that others’ feelings, thoughts, and desires may be different from their own and that something that makes one person happy may make another person sad.  For example, a child who wins a game will feel happy, while the child who lost the game will feel sad.  They have two different experiences and emotions based on the same situation.  

 

It is important for children to recognize these emotions both in others and in themselves. Recognizing what facial expressions or tones indicate that a person is feeling a certain emotion is an important skill to develop this emotional recognition.  For example, lowered eyebrows, narrowed eyes, a tense body, and frowning mouth may indicate that someone is feeling angry.  

It is then important for children to learn how to react appropriately in situations where they or others are feeling various emotions.  Going back to the example citing the two children playing a game, the child who won may need to recognize that the other child is feeling sad about losing, and needs to act appropriately about winning.  The child may learn to thank the other child for playing instead of boasting that he/she won.  Likewise, the child who lost the game must learn to accept that others sometimes win and act appropriately about losing versus crying or yelling.  

As Theory of Mind develops, children begin to understand more complex concepts, such as that others’ knowledge may be different from their own or that beliefs about things may not be true.  

 

 

A classic example of Theory of Mind…

A child puts a cookie on the table and leaves the room, then a second child hides the cookie. The first child will still look for the cookie on the table when they come back because they do not know that the cookie was moved by the second child.  

 

Younger children will develop this skill and other basic emotion-based skills in their preschool years and it will support more advanced Theory of Mind concepts, which you can read about in the Social Communication section of this website LINK

 

We are highly experienced and considered to be experts in the development of Theory of Mind. We are trained in the Social Thinking methodology, a highly regarded program developed by Michelle Garcia Winner. For more information on the Social Thinking program, please visit socialthinking.com. 

 

We also teach based on the principles in the Talkability program from the Hanen Center designed specifically for teaching children Theory of Mind to children with Autism. For more information on this program, please visit hanen.org.

 

Our treatment aims to promote self-regulation, social-emotional learning, executive functioning, perspective-taking, and social problem-solving in children aged 4 to adult. We have seen our clients make great strides in their ability to understand the thoughts, emotions, and perspectives of themselves and others in both individual and group settings.

 

Therapy strategies also may include making group plans, role-playing, and encouraging flexible thinking skills.  Flexible thinking helps children learn that changes may happen, thoughts may sometimes get stuck, or others may make different choices than them, and that this is okay.  These concepts can sometimes be a challenge for children, particularly those with Autism, and we strive to help them adapt and become flexible thinkers.

Written by Stacy Lecznar, MA, CCC-SLP A Gigi’s Kids Speech and Language Pathologist